Cancel the monarchy
Andrew Windsor’s bizarre Newsnight interview should strengthen our resolve to fight for a democratic republic, argues Paul Demarty.
The travails of Andrew Windsor, the Duke of York, have done nothing if not to remind us of the many sordid temptations that await the modern British royal family member.
Not the least of these hazards, it seems, is the big-ticket BBC interview. Ever since Diana Spencer achieved an - in retrospect - spectacular reversal in her public image by opening up to the Beeb, the siren-song of the televised puff-piece has enticed the troubled members of the Saxe-Cobourgs. The nauseatingly deferential media treatment of Diana’s sons of late reinforces the appeal.
After Andrew’s calamitous performance under the not particularly punishing questioning of Emily Maitlis, some of the shine must surely go off the idea. It was a piece of television that at times seemed to come from a hallucinatory netherworld, halfway between Red riding and Arrested development. Did he really describe Jeffrey Epstein’s antics as “unbecoming”? Did he really get into the functionality of his sweat glands to gird his limp alibi, making claims that were falsified by the photographic record within seconds? The past is a different country, and all that; but was it so different that the son of the Queen of England could have seared indelibly into his memory a visit to the Woking branch of Pizza Express 18 years earlier? For all the ample opportunities of the #MeToo era, we doubt there has been a more preposterous set of responses to allegations of sexual crimes since Silvio Berlusconi was in his bunga-bunga prime.
Far from pulling a Diana and recovering some measure of public sympathy, then, the good prince has come out looking like Nick Griffin did on Newsnight all those years ago: evasive, shifty, self-pitying, conceited. To that must be added the charge of oblivious arrogance. He seems to have imagined that people would immediately see that this was all a big misunderstanding, and not something that, at the very least, reflects poorly on Andrew’s choice of friends. Renewed calls for him to face the rather sterner questioning of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are, so far, stonewalled by his office; the fact that a Keystone Kop on tranquilisers could see through his alibis may account for his reticence on this point.
Meanwhile, today’s much-maligned ‘cancel culture’ grinds into gear, with charities and large companies alike under pressure to sever their ties with Andrew, and Huddersfield University students union seeking to get him removed from his honorary position as chancellor. In this instance, the case for ‘cancellation’ is so watertight that even Spiked cannot bring itself to object.
The back-story to this fiasco bears laying out at some length, not least because - since we last had cause to comment on Epstein’s case some four years ago - things have gotten more and more bizarre (‘An abuse of power’ Weekly Worker January 8 2015). Jeffrey Epstein was a financier of some repute, so far as anyone could tell. He was certainly a man with a lot of money to slosh around; he clawed his way up through the Wall Street hierarchy, making his name with Bear Stearns in the 1970s, before striking out as an independent operator. (In the 2000s, a company he operated, 40% owned by Bear, was heavily implicated in the bank’s collapse, entangling its dodgy mortgage positions with its dealings in the repo market, the main source of short-term finance in the banking sector. There’s gratitude for you … )
Suspicions always clung to his operations - particularly his claim to manage only the fortunes of those with a minimum net worth of $1 billion. His client list is obscure and, given subsequent events, there are no doubt many high-net-worth individuals who would like it to remain so. Nonetheless, he had the glamour of success. Coupled with his humble origins - the son of a teacher and a groundskeeper - this seems to have generated a sort of Gatsby complex with a 21st century twist. Epstein became bewitched by the promise of high technology. He cultivated important friends at the top of the tech business, all of whom are now engaged in an undignified scramble to play down their connections with him (none quite so undignified as the Duke of York’s march down from that particular hill, admittedly). He got sucked into the vacuous ‘transhumanist’ milieu, for whose neo-gnostic adherents flesh is a prison from which technology will, sooner or later, liberate us.
In the meantime, of course, there was his sexual appetite. He is discussed in the media often as merely an especially prolific child molester, but in a certain sense that misses the point. The horror of Epstein’s behaviour consists in how it overlaps with his other obsessions - money and transcending his human limitations with technology. Just as he hoarded wealth, so he hoarded very young women; the proprietorial relationship seems to have mattered a great deal to him. He wanted an army of concubines, rather than a child-bride; these, of course, were in his gift in his relations with other men. In the course of New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow’s investigation into Epstein’s ties to the MIT media lab, he found references in emails to Epstein’s habit of bringing groups of suspiciously young, diffident women to engagements there. This, and many other similar reports, renders Andy’s see-no-evil act extremely implausible.
The ‘transhumanist’ part of his personality, meanwhile, seems to have shaded over into a deeply creepy eugenicism, whereby those who had proven their smarts - say, by rising from a working class childhood in Brooklyn to vast wealth - had a duty to the future of the species to sow their oats far and wide. This is the problem with calling him a paedophile; he did not want sex with pre-pubescents, because pre-pubescents cannot bear the next generation of little Jeffreys, so lumping him in with Michael Jackson misses the deeply misogynistic narcissism at work, still endemic in the upper reaches of the bourgeoisie, if not always presenting so garishly as in Epstein’s case. It also reduces his wretchedness to a mere sexual fetish, however pathological; instead, its true significance is as an unusually clear example of the moral corruption at the heart of the capitalist ideology of the deserving rich, to whose Nietzschean pretensions nothing may be denied.
So it seemed, even when the law caught up with him in 2006; charges against him of large-scale sexual exploitation of minors were whittled down by his lawyers to a single charge of solicitation with a jail term of 15 months - not, needless to say, in the rough cells of Angola or San Quentin, but in an arrangement that barely counts as prison at all, together with a guarantee of immunity to any of Epstein’s ‘co-conspirators’. It was a shameful miscarriage of justice, even by American standards. Some victims, most notably Virginia Giuffre, were brave enough to pursue civil remedies and, as more and more big names got roped in as potential ‘persons of interest’ in the case, Epstein again found himself in hot water. He was found dead, purportedly by his own hand, in what may fairly be called suspicious circumstances earlier this year, provoking a new wave of fallout for those close to him in politics, business and academia - and British royalty.
Prince Andrew stands out among Epstein’s chums primarily for his blue blood. Epstein’s ‘meritocratic’ outlook biased him towards the self-consciously innovative wings of the capitalist class (high finance in its most self-referential era; high technology in its post-dotcom bull-run). Some of these, however, have a weakness for the surviving, domesticated remnants of the old ruling elite. They like to go shooting in more dignified company than the check-shirted backwoodsmen who stalk deer in the USA. A prince is a good sort of chap to know; he opens doors.
Andrew, moreover, is plainly a very stupid prince. One could hardly say the same of his brother, Charles, who is a tactless reactionary, but plainly capable of stringing a few thoughts together (indeed, it is his insistence on doing so that so often gets him into trouble). He has positioned himself as the modernising member of his generation, as opposed to Charles’s cod-medievalism; his name is attached to endless charities dedicated to increasing the ‘entrepreneurialism’ of young Britons. He spent many years as a trade envoy, during which he made many other interesting friends. He is an honorary fellow of Hugh Hall, Cambridge, in view of his “encourag[ing of] enquiring minds in business and entrepreneurship”; and so on. A prince like Andrew, in other words, is an easy mark for a sleaze ball like Epstein; a cretinous admirer of ‘innovation’ as such, and believer in the heroic-individual theory of innovation’s aetiology.
Like Donald Trump, Andrew is a kind of fake capitalist. Trump has business interests, sure, but far more modest than his ego; he managed to market himself as the strapping hero of Reaganism, and his greatest success in the decade or two before entering the White House was a reality TV programme, where he strutted around in caricature of an old-fashioned Big Boss. As for Andrew, the life of a trade envoy is full of the pretence of making great deals happen, and (apparently) of inspiring young entrepreneurs. The difference is this: Trump knows what he is doing. What Trump projects about himself, however, Andrew is foolish enough to believe about others.
Whether there really is an innocent explanation for the picture of QE2’s favourite son - formerly nicknamed ‘Randy Andy’ - with his arm around 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre (then Roberts), we leave to posterity to decide. The more important question arises, inevitably, of the monarchy itself. Andrew’s idiocy, like similar disasters, throws a flicker of light on how things normally work. We learn, for instance, that a serious PR man had been brought on board to rehabilitate him, given the harm his links with Epstein could still do him; but that this guru resigned as soon as he heard that this interview was going ahead, over his strenuous objections.
Very wise, from a career point of view; but then in that light we must expand our interest to those royals who escape, apparently miraculously, all public opprobrium. Elizabeth herself has not been at the wrong end of a news agenda since the immediate aftermath of Diana’s death - her resolute refusal to be drawn on any political matters at all since she rebuked Scottish nationalists in the 1970s, beyond the ceremonial duties of office, may perhaps be her own initiative, but an army of communications professionals among her courtiers will hardly advise her otherwise. The tyranny of such types is far more obvious in her grandsons by Diana and Charles, who have not said anything worth listening to in their lives.
PR people are defensive regiments. The question is what is being defended. With total blandness to the obviously desired result, the answer must also be plain. If the monarchy disappears into the national mental furniture, the dignified part of the constitution in Bagehot’s schema, as indissolubly British as roast beef, hobbits, hunting hounds and dancing chimney-sweeps, then its function in society disappears. That function is to guarantee limitless executive power, and to mitigate whatever democratic measures are foisted on the ruling classes by the popular masses. If sections of the popular masses love them for it, that is even better.
There is an underbelly to that sort of power, however; a complicity in the exploitation of the rest of us. And so, behind the serene embodiment of national continuity, we find - in the royals - shop-soiled representatives of the broader layers of the elite. Even if their peccadilloes do not stretch to Epsteinian levels of sexual impropriety, they must disregard - as Andrew did in spectacular style - the people crushed under the wheels they grease. Let Randy Andy’s discomfort remind us (and it is worth noting that a cowardly Labour Party still refuses to address the constitution seriously) that it is long past time to ditch the monarchy - equally an apology for past barbarism and a guarantee of future crimes.